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The Silly Sister

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Mr. Bennet arrived at Pemberley at a most inconvenient time for Georgiana Darcy and Kitty Bennet. Indeed, it was an inconvenient time altogether, for Georgiana's brother Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife Elizabeth were away -- not at all by any plan of theirs. Before they left, they had reported the strongest desire to return within a fortnight, in good time to greet Kitty and Elizabeth's father. But by a series of unfortunate coincidences, they had been delayed in their return, and then delayed again, and the upshot of it all was that when the coach carrying Mr. Bennet pulled up in front of Pemberley a day earlier than expected, the only word that their young sisters had of the Darcys was that they would still be a day or two in returning.

Mr. Bennet's arrival caught the two girls in one of the long galleries, and when the housekeeper announced it, their first reaction was dismay, for they had been running and playing like children half their age, with none of the proper restraint of the young ladies they aspired to be.

"Oh Lord, what will papa think?" Kitty said.

Georgiana blushed, though it was hardly noticeable, her cheeks were so red already from running. When Kitty had first arrived, Georgiana had tried to interest her in music, or in sketching, or in reading aloud from novels. Only the last of these had interested Kitty at first, and though Georgiana was teaching Kitty to sketch now, they both preferred landscapes, and since the day had threatened storms from very early on, the girls had stayed indoors with a novel shared between them.

Over the months of their association, as they had become more accustomed to each other, reading aloud from novels had turned to acting out the best scenes from novels, and that in turn and led to the need for larger and larger stages to fit their larger and more dramatic scenes. They had moved from the sitting room to the gallery a week ago, and even that had not been enough for them. They had needed crates to stand on while declaiming their lines, and to jump from to show the fullest extremity of the climax.

The Darcys would not have objected, Georgiana was certain of that. Her brother indulged her, and this diversion was nothing that could be objected to so long as it was done in private, among only the closest family, and without any intention of being seen. But Kitty had told Georgiana tales of how strict her father was, and now he was here.

"What are we to do now?" Georgiana said, thinking of all the plans they'd formed for when Mr. Bennet arrived.

"Lord, we are wild," Kitty said, patting her hair, which had fallen out of its confines on one side, and then reaching over to tidy a few stray strands of Georgiana's more biddable locks. "You must go and greet papa, while I make myself tidy, or we shall never hear the end of it."

Georgiana was very aware of all the ways her dress and general appearance fell short of perfection.

"Kitty, must I?" she said.

"Yes, you must, or papa will be against us from the start, and all of our schemes will be over-set. I will be down as soon as I can, I promise you."

With that promise, Georgiana had to be content, but she went down to greet her guest with a distinct feeling of impending disaster. As it happened, though, Mr. Bennet was kinder than she expected, and after she had greeted him and invited him into the drawing-room, standing in place for her brother and his wife, she soon found that she was able to converse with him with composure. He was not nearly so fearful as Kitty had painted him, and she soon suspected that he was not nearly as strict either.

Kitty soon made good on her promise to join them, and she was so demure that Georgiana could barely recognize her impetuous friend, but she soon saw that Mr. Bennet was not at all taken in. She recognized the expression in his eyes as he watched Kitty as knowing fondness, for she had often seen the same in her brother's eyes.

"We should just ask him outright," she said to Kitty later that evening, after Mr. Bennet had pronounced himself very pleased with his reception at Pemberley but also very fatigue from his journey. He had retired, leaving the two friends to confer.

"You mean beg? He does not like it any more when I beg, and I already know that he will not give in, no matter how urgently I present it. It is Lydia who was poisoned that pool," Kitty said fretfully. "I will not beg, for it will do me no good in his eyes."

"No, you must not beg. But if you simply asked..." Georgiana suggested delicately. "Surely if you ask reasonably, then he will be reasonable and allow you to come."

"I dare not," Kitty said. "We must wait for Lizzy and persuade her to ask for us, as we planned. He will listen to her."

"But by the time they return, he will have begun to make plans for your return to Longbourn. It may be too late to change his mind and persuade him to allow you to come to London with us instead."

"I should like to see London," Kitty said wistfully. "But he will never agree. He thinks I have no sense."

"Then we must persuade him otherwise," Georgiana said firmly. She did not want to part with Kitty simply because they were all leaving Pemberley; and they had become such intimate friends that she would do anything for her. Even though her natural shyness made her want to shrink away from the task ahead, she was resolved to do her part.

 

The next day, Kitty was on her mettle to present only her very best behavior to her father, and Georgiana resolved to remain quiet -- it was not hard for her -- and do only as much as she needed in order to present Kitty to the best advantage. But Kitty needed no help at breakfast; she conversed with her father about his journey and about the news of their family with a quickness and amiability that Georgiana could only admire.

Later in the day, Georgiana was able to persuade Kitty to play the pianoforte for Mr. Bennet, who applauded those efforts with good will. Later, as the day turned warm and pleasant, she and Kitty went out on the terrace to sketch. Mr. Bennet joined them there, and soon invited Kitty to walk with him down by the river.

As she watched them stroll, Kitty talking with great animation, and Mr. Bennet nodding and smiling, Georgiana dared to hope, but when Kitty finally returned, she was despondent.

"Oh, Georgiana, he said no," she reported. "Why did I ask? Now everything is ruined!"

Georgiana did her best to calm Kitty down, telling her that there was still hope, and that even if there was not, there would be other opportunities. Kitty was forced to see the reason in what she said -- "But I did hope that he would see that I'm not Lydia, nor anything like her any more."

"As to that -- I am convinced that your response to his ruling will be the best proof of that," Georgiana said, smiling a little.

"No, I did not beg, or argue, or try to overcome him with volume or repetition, as mama and Lydia always did," Kitty said, a little comforted.

"That was well done," Georgiana said. "And I will say again that perhaps it is not too late. But even if it is, I will not neglect to ask for your company at every opportunity, so that you might join me as soon as possible." With these and other arguments, Georgiana comforted Kitty, but after Kitty had resumed her sketching, Georgiana excused herself and went looking for Mr. Bennet herself.

She found him in the garden, and sat down on the bench beside him. She was nervous, but like the previous day, she soon found that he was as kind to her as he had been the day before. But he was not unaware of her purpose, she found almost as quickly.

"Have you come to make an argument with me? Kitty told me that you have been taking her under your wing, as much as my Lizzy has done, and that I have much to thank you for."

Georgiana blushed. She had not expected to be the subject of Kitty's conversation. "I have come to talk to you about Kitty," she managed to say without losing her composure entirely. "I have come to tell you how good a friend Kitty has been to me, and how much I trust her." She told him the story of their friendship from the first awkward days to the present intimacies, and how she could trust Kitty with any confidence, no matter how secret, and Mr. Bennet listened gravely. "I have found her to be a very sensible companion, and she has a good heart," Georgiana finished, feeling a rush of relief to have got through it. She was not used to speaking so much, but the subject had made her eloquent.

"There is nothing so dear as a good friend," she said.

"You may change your mind about that in time," Mr. Bennet said, and Georgiana blushed again, hot and fierce red staining her cheeks. Seeing her discomfort, Mr. Bennet did not pursue the subject. "It seems to me that you know a different Kitty than the one I do," he said. His respect for her opinion made Georgiana feel that she had done the right thing in coming to him. But when he did not continue, she began to doubt. Mr. Bennet's gaze was cast away from her, seeking something in the distance, and Georgiana could not guess what he was thinking.

"You must understand," Mr. Bennet said finally, and to Georgiana's great relief -- "Having lost one daughter to an unfortunate marriage, and two others gone as well, though to the most fortunate of marriages imaginable -- The daughters remaining become the more dear. After Lydia, I resolved to keep a great watch on Kitty, and yet here she is, grown all out of recognition."

Mr. Bennet sighed.

"She is not so very different," Georgiana said, thinking it would comfort him.

Mr. Bennet's eyes showed a certain amusement as he turned to look at Georgiana. "No, I can see that as well. Kitty is still Kitty -- but she has grown, and I think I have my Lizzy to thank for some of that. But in addition, I can see that you are a good companion for my Kitty, much better than her own sister Lydia, who only brought out the worst aspects of Kitty's character."

Georgiana blushed with pleasure.

"She used to be the silliest girl imaginable," Mr. Bennet continued. "What do you think of that? I dare say you would not have wanted her for a friend in those days."

"There are times and places when being silly is not so unfortunate," Georgiana said, thinking of her upbringing, in which silliness had played no part at all. Thinking of how Kitty made it easy for her to laugh occasionally, and even be wild -- if only a little bit wild. Kitty -- and Elizabeth, too -- had brought more lightness into Georgiana's life, and she could not be sorry for it.

Mr. Bennet, not being privy to her thoughts, shook his head. "You did not know how silly she could be," he said. Georgiana, not being privy to his experiences, had nothing to say to that. Mr. Bennet got up soon after, ending the conversation. "I shall think on it," he said to Georgiana when she called after him, putting aside her dignity to obtain only this unsatisfactory reply. With that she had to be content.

 

That night at dinner, Georgiana was especially careful to give Kitty a chance to show off her conversational skills. She had not given up yet. Just as the last course was being cleared, they heard an unexpected sound, and as they got up from the table, Georgiana realized that it was the Darcys, returned home at last!

Georgiana ran to greet her brother, and Kitty ran to greet her sister, and Mr. Bennet did not run at all, but joined them soon enough. In the conversation that followed, Georgiana drew aside her brother and appealed to him on Kitty's behalf, and she was certain that Kitty was making the same appeals to her sister.

Mr. Bennet was not unobservant of these maneuvers, either, for as soon as there was a lull in the conversation, they all turned to him with such a unity of purpose that he knew instantly what they were about to ask, and raising his hands in surrender, he capitulated before a word had been spoken.

"If you want her with you, Lizzy... Are you sure you will not regret it?"

Georgiana thought perhaps he was teasing, but Kitty looked nervous. Georgiana went to stand by her, but there was no need.

"Indeed, papa, we would be glad to have Kitty's company," Elizabeth said. "We find great pleasure in having Kitty with us." Her smile took in Georgiana as well.

"In that case, I can have no objection to something so strongly desired by all," Mr. Bennet said. "Kitty must go to London!"

Kitty only with difficulty refrained from shrieking in pleasure. "You are very good," Georgiana said to cover any stray noise from Kitty.

After that, they all retired to the drawing-room, but before long Georgiana and Kitty both excused themselves, and under the complaisant eye of their older siblings, took themselves off to the long gallery, where they proceeded to behave in a very silly manner, laughing and dancing and running around wildly -- but it was all among friends, where there is no judgment, only joy.